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Faces from the Field: Dr. Elliott Attisha

by Caitlin McFeely, Communications Associate, Children's Health Fund

National Doctor’s Day honors the work of doctors across the United States. In celebration of Doctor’s Day 2011, I’m thrilled to introduce you to the newest pediatrician to join the Children’s Health Fund (CHF) community, Dr. Elliott Attisha from the Children’s Health Project of Detroit.

Dr. Attisha grew up in the metro Detroit area and has been working as a pediatrician in the Motor City for the past 10 years. I haven’t met Elliott in person, but this interview offered me the opportunity to hear more about the challenges the children of Detroit face accessing health care, as well as Elliott’s perspective about caring for the kids of this community.

Caitlin (C): What inspired you to become a doctor?

Patient care on CHF's Detroit Mobile Medical Unit. Elliott (E): I would have to say that my parents, especially my dad, pretty much engraved the idea in my head from a few minutes after I was born and maybe even when I was still in my mother’s womb. Of course, I rebelled and wanted to become anything but a doctor. As many people do, I changed my career goals in college multiple times and finally decided to give medicine a chance. I volunteered in a hospital and knew that this is where I belonged. Although I started out with the intent of becoming a family doctor, the part I enjoyed the most was working with kids, so I pursued a career in pediatrics instead. What better a profession for someone who never wants to grow up? Later in life I married a pediatrician who happens to feel the same way.

C: What made you want to work for an organization like CHF?

E: For over nine years, I practiced pediatrics in suburban Detroit. Although I cherished the continuity of care, I longed to make a more lasting impact in my community. In September 2010, I joined Henry Ford Health System’s School-Based and Community Health Program in Detroit. My role as a pediatrician truly became that of an advocate for some of our nation’s most underserved children. The challenges that inner-city children face are overwhelming, with multiple barriers to health care, education, proper nutrition and so much more. Henry Ford’s School-Based health clinics play an integral role in alleviating many of these barriers. I found my work to be truly rewarding. Soon after joining the school clinics I was informed of Henry Ford’s partnership with CHF. It didn’t take more than a few minutes of learning about the program to know that it was the perfect complement to what Henry Ford was already doing with each of its school clinics.

C: What do you think are the biggest challenges children and families in your region are experiencing in accessing health care?

E: As widely known, Detroit has undergone a significant socioeconomic downturn over the past few years. Although there are small signs of rebirth, Detroit families face several challenges to health care access – affordability, availability, accessibility, accommodation, and acceptability. Ironically, one of the biggest challenges in the Motor City is the lack of transportation. It is estimated that 1/3 of Detroit homes do not have a vehicle and Detroit lacks a formidable mass transportation system. Kids can get to school via bus, but many can’t, and often don’t, get to their pediatrician. Although the school clinics have helped to overcome this barrier, potential Detroit Public School closings may put some of these clinics at risk. One potential outcome is a greater need for mobile clinics.

C: What is your favorite part about working on the mobile clinic? (P.S. Readers, this is my MOST favorite answer ☺)

Dr. Elliott Attisha greeting his patients at the Mobile Medical Unit in Detroit.E: My favorite part about working on the mobile clinic is the expression on the faces of children as they walk into the clinic. Eyes wide open, mouth ajar – it’s that look of curiosity, that look of wonder and excitement (unless they have to get a shot, of course). It is the same feeling I had when I first stepped on to the mobile unit.

I also want to mention the amazing staff that I work with, both on the mobile unit and back at Henry Ford’s School Based headquarters. It is quite an amazing group of individuals and I am honored and privileged to be part of the team. I also think that I speak for all of us at Henry Ford when I say that we couldn’t have found a better partner than CHF as we focus on the challenges ahead.

C: What's the hardest part?

E: The hardest part: Knowing that we are still only a small part of the answer. There remains a lot to be done and our focus has to be long term. An anonymous author once said, “Children are one third of our population and all of our future.”

C: What are some unique programs or events that your program has to offer?

E: One of our greatest challenges was getting prescriptions filled, especially with limited transportation. In collaboration with Henry Ford’s ambulatory pharmacy division, we created a program where all prescriptions are delivered to the site of care on the day of the visit. It removes another barrier for the family and also allows us the chance to have the medication on hand when explaining proper use. It is one more way that we have tried to tear down barriers to care.

C: What do you like to do when you aren’t working?

E: I am a father to two beautiful daughters and a husband to quite an amazing wife. Aside from hanging out with my family, I enjoy photography. Many joke that the camera is the son I never had. One of my goals has been to merge my pediatric career and photography; over the past few years I’ve spent some time capturing the lives of patients in the hospital setting. It was an honor this year to have a few photos selected by the National Association of Children’s Hospitals and Related Institutions (NACHRI) for their biennial photo exhibit. The exhibit is displayed at Capital Hill in D.C., serving as a visual reminder to congress that their decisions impact the health of all children. It’s been a great way to bring it all full circle.

C: Thanks, Elliott for speaking with me today.

We’re so proud to be affiliated with doctors like Elliott, who work day in and out all across the country and give children living in poverty the chance of a healthy life. We wish a Happy Doctor’s Day to CHF’s entire network of doctors. Thank you all for your dedication, hard work, and commitment to underserved children.